White Castle test: Sometimes small things make a big difference

| by S.A. Whitehead
White Castle test: Sometimes small things make a big difference

Few restaurant executives spend significant chunks of time pondering napkin dispensers. But even fewer would pass up a chance to conserve more than half the costs of any given restaurant supply. That's the savings White Castle realized in tests of a new system for dispensing that customer-mandated freebie, napkins.

According to napkin supplier data, customers at the average QSR dab and wipe their way through up to 10,000 napkins daily. That adds up to a hefty price every year for one easy-to-overuse complimentary restaurant necessity.

That's one reason that QSR White Castle sought a solution to its napkin overuse. Leading up to the introduction of its new — and notably napkin-worthy — waffle sliders, the chain tested a different napkin dispenser in a handful of restaurants. Ultimately, this test demonstrated that switching dispensers could put a huge dent in the company's napkin supply costs.

And that is just what happened. The Dixie Ultra Smart Stock system the company tested cut napkin use by 64 percent. QSRweb got the whole story from White Castle executives Shannon Tolliver, social responsibility and environmental sustainability manager, and Alec Frisch, GP Pro vice president and general manager of beverage, plate and container categories.

Q: Was this test part of a cost-trimming initiative at White Castle or just an overall part of your business practices to reduce costs?

Tolliver: We are always looking for ways to cut costs and improve our guests' experience. While food service supplies, like napkins and dispensers didn't immediately jump out to us as an area where we could make any major improvements, [this] system has made an immediate impact to our overall waste reduction. …

We conducted a one-month napkin waste test across 10 of our locations, and have been extremely pleased to see how the new products could help reduce waste, cut costs and improve our guests' experience. …

Reducing our napkin usage is just another way we can reduce our waste and enhance our environmental sustainability goals.

Q: How does this product directly address the need for cost savings and how were the savings achieved?

Frisch: Operators of QSRs deal with napkin waste constantly, both in front-of-house where patrons often grab more napkins than they need and back-of-house, where it can be tricky to get the right number of napkins for each to-go order. In fact, our studies show that the average QSR uses between 5,000 and 10,000 napkins a day.

Tolliver: Our previous single-ply napkins and dispensers utilized an open-source container, which encouraged wasteful "hook-and-grab" customer behaviors. The waste from our old dispensers drove up costs and required frequent maintenance to keep our dispensers well-stocked.

Q: How much was saved and why?

Tolliver: During our … test, we reduced our napkin usage by 64 percent. Not only did we save on napkin costs but on time spent on restocking, cleaning and maintaining the dispensers. This material savings equated to an approximate savings of 20 percent per store. …

We have rolled out the napkin dispenser to all White Castle locations system-wide and we are pleased to see the reduction in napkins as well as the reduced cost savings.

Q: Is cost savings the reason most QSR chains look for new dispensers or is it just waste reduction overall?

Frisch: Cost-savings is certainly near the top of the list for food service facility owners, operators and maintainers. However, food safety, patron satisfaction and waste reduction are also key priorities. Our research tells us that 82 percent of [quick-serve] employees believe that waste is a key issue. And the same number have concerns about keeping surfaces and floors clean to prevent food contamination.

Not only did our [new] system help White Castle reduce the cost associated with napkin waste, but it also helped streamline and improve the overall front-of-house customer experience. Our automated system has fewer touch points which helps reduce napkin or dispenser contamination, and ensures high levels of sanitation.

The napkins used in the new automated machines are high-quality, two-ply napkins and made with 100 percent recycled materials. During our month-long test at White Castle, 84 percent of users preferred the [new] napkins system over the napkins and dispensers used previously and 90 percent agreed the new system was easy to use.

Photo: iStock

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Equipment & Supplies, Going Green, Sustainability

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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